"Like Yoga, there are seasons to love."
Drag queen Jujubee is the glittering RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus best known for her agile wit and shimmering charisma. Today, the Boston-based performer reflects on the power of the alter ego and the challenge to find self-acceptance away from the artifice of performance.
Jujubee or Airline Inthyrath, was born in Boston, Massachusetts- a first generation American whose parents arrived in the United States to escape the devastating effects of the Vietnam War. It was a time where the citizens of Vietnam and its neighbouring countries were dispersed by the unmitigated violence of the region. “We were one of the people who were affected the most,” remarks the performer referring to Laos, his family’s country of origin. Two decades later, a 26 year old Jujubee made her triumphant debut on Season 2 of reality television sensation Rupaul’s Drag Race. On television, the five foot six diva delivered a performance that smacked with equal measures of cheek, brilliance, and genuine tenderness. Years later, with a still-growing fan base that has expanded beyond aficionados of the series, the performer reflects on his radical journey towards self-acceptance.
Through the mask we reveal ourselves.Jujubee
Jujubee: Beauty was really difficult for me to understand. As a gay male who’s feminine, and who’s also considered a foreigner in America, I was always trying to search for whoever I was. As an Asian, I never found myself to be that beautiful because my skin’s so dark, so it took me a really long time. It was hard for me to find specific Asian beauty because we weren’t exposed to much of it. So everytime I saw anybody that looked like me, I like latched on. I listened to a lot of music. Whitney Houston was somebody that I had always found to be the biggest goddess because of her voice, her beauty, and her elegance- I really admired the whole package. That for me was where glamour came from. I think that kind of exposure really helped people like me see that beauty is more than just a western version. I don’t want to take away from the beauty of a white person, but there’s more to beauty than just that.
J: Definitely, because my drag never fell into the category of what was expected of drag per-se. I wasn’t as exaggerated as most other drag queens. It’s still happening and still growing, but it’s been a really long time. I would say, it’s been since I was about 21. I’m 34 now, so it’s been awhile. I almost feel like my drag is really an extension of who I am. I’ve gathered the strength and stability from the really strong women in my life to create this character, and although it’s a character, it’s still a part of who I am. It’s like when anybody gets invited to a fancy party, they dress up, and have an excuse to be a better version of themselves. That’s how I look at drag.
J: Oh, completely. I would never have the confidence to do and say the things that I do unless I were in drag. I don’t even understand what the magic is but it just happens for some reason. It’s like when anybody gets invited to a fancy party, they dress up, and have an excuse to be a better version of themselves, that’s how I look at drag. There’s strength in the superficialness of it. Through the mask we reveal ourselves. It’s such a funny way to look at it, but in order for any of us to really find ourselves we really need to put on a mask first. Then as you peel away that mask, your true self even comes out even more. I guess you don’t find the truth in yourself until you try to cover it up. It’s pretty interesting to kind of think of it in that way, but I wholeheartedly believe in that because that’s how it happened for me.
We’re all on our own journey, and we’re all in charge of ourselves, nobody else.Jujubee
J: I think being taken seriously is really hard. I can’t speak for every gay community in the world, but from my experience here in Boston, before RuPaul’s Drag Race, I wasn’t taken seriously. It was something that felt unattractive to a lot of the gay men that were around us. Maybe they saw feminine beings as something weak, but I think that RuPaul’s Drag Race has elevated the idea of the feminine power. As a female, you have to prove yourself over and over again, but a man doesn’t have to, he just has to be a man you know? I believe that femininity is strong. I’ve spent this whole time trying to show people that being feminine isn’t a weakness at all, it’s a strength.
J: I learned how to cry and how to be honest with my tears. This was a very powerful thing for me because I used to just shut it down. Whenever I would want to cry, I would shut it down but as everybody saw, I was quite emotional on television. I taught myself to do that because I thought it was important to show people that drag queens are people and that we have everyday struggles, desires and dreams like everybody else.I really believe that feminine energy is a strength and fragility is really a beautiful thing. To be able to feel, express and to cry is one of the strongest things.
J: Oh completely. Jujubee has given me so much more confidence. It’s funny because whenever I’m in a situation- if I want to do something, or buy something, I ask myself. “what would Jujubee do?”. I’ll take a second and ask, “would she do this? Is this feasible? Is this logical?”. Because I find that Jujubee is a little bit more logical than I am. I myself am a little bit more, “oh let me just do it”, you know. Because of the time spent in creating this person, I’ve found that I can take a step back and wait a few minutes. I even meditate now.
J: I’ve been meditating for about a year, but I’m on a 129 day streak. I can’t believe it. I quit drinking, I quit using drugs last June, and I’ve just been meditating and meditating. Like, I stopped smoking marijuana. I can’t even believe it. That was one of my favourite things. And I stopped smoking cigarettes.
J: I wanted control of myself. I wanted complete control. I wanted a clear mind. I didn’t want my feelings to be anything but my feelings. With drag, there was alot of drinking because it really helped me working in those spaces. I just found myself drinking because there were parts of the job that was alot. But then I said to myself, “you know, this is something that you really love doing. So if you want to keep doing this, then you need to step away from all the horrible demons.”
J: Before, I was using drink as a crutch for my performances because I would tell myself that I was nervous so I would do a shot and be like, “I feel great”. But after meditating, I deciphered it. I was like, “ wait, these feelings come and go. Just feel nervous. It’s okay to feel like you’re going to fail, but you never know you’re going to fail unless you go out there and do it.” It’s all a learning process and when you learn, you grow. I go into performances now without any substances. I go in knowing what I’m doing and I still feel the same love and the same energy that I felt before without any substances. I’m so happy and grateful for that.
J: Oh completely. Quicker. She’s still as sassy, but now my sassiness is more honest. We’re all on our own journey, and we’re all in charge of ourselves, nobody else.
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